Saturday, September 8, 2012
In the division of labor that my wife and I have worked out in re our twin babies, I feed them late at night on the weekends, when I don't have to get up at 5:30 AM, as I do on work days. I've found that I can feed and burp a baby in about as much time as it takes for one side of a record to play. For that reason, I will often play an LP during feeding time, usually something that soothes the babies.
For some reason early 1970s folk and folk-inflected music really pleases them. My girls seem smitten by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Jim Croce. In that spirit, this evening I put Crobsy, Stills, Nash and Young's 1970 disc Deja Vu on the turn-table. While holding one of my girls against my chest hoping she would burp, the Neil Young-penned "Helpless" came on, and I found myself helpless to hold back a tide of emotion.
Much of this had to do with the fact that this summer (right before the girls came on the scene) I had a chance to see Journeys, the most recent Jonathan Demme-directed documentary about Neil Young. Much of it involves Young going back to Omemee, his hometown in rural Ontario. This is the place the songs sings of, a place that Young finds to have changed a lot since his youth. Having grown up in a country town and then left it for distant lands, I hear this song as a desperate attempt to call back childhood memories rooted in a place you can never truly go back to anymore. Whenever I visit my family in central Nebraska, I increasingly feel like a stranger in my own home town.
That wasn't the biggest reason the song got to me tonight with my child in my arms. Holding this piece of new, vibrant life in my hands, I wondered what she would think of her childhood home when she got older, and whether she too would chase the horizon, becoming alien to the world and parents that nurtured her. If she does, I only hope I can give her the kind of memories strong enough to inspire longing for home.